March 29, 2017 Santiago de Cuba/Las Tunas/Camaguey

Gran Hotel Courtyard

Views from the rooftop of the Gran Hotel Camaguey

Camaguey Church

Common mode of transportation

Beautifully restored building

This morning we departed our hotel at 8:00am bound for the city of Camaguey about a six-hour drive away. The drive took us through the center or Cuba which is a bit flatter and dryer looking. There were many fields with cattle and goats and most of the towns are smaller and less populated. Throughout Cuba we have seen fences or hedgerows made of cactus delineating one property from the next. The cactus is trimmed on the sides and the top creating a dense thorny hedge that they say not even a chicken can get through. We stopped in the town of Bayamo for a comfort stop at a roadside hotel. For lunch we stopped in the town of Las Tunas for lunch at a restaurant and bar called the Cache. Las Tunas is located in central-eastern Cuba along the Carretera Highway between the cities of Camaguey, Holguin and Bayamo. It has a population of about 200,000. We arrived at the Gran Hotel in the heart of Camaguey about 4:15pm.

On our long drive to Camaguey, Jesus discussed with us Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Naval Base and how much the Cuban people would like to see the U.S. close the base and give the land back to the Cuban people. The U.S. occupied Cuba for about four years after the War of Independence and before the Platt Amendment named after a Congressman who wrote a unilateral plan to give the the U.S the right to occupy a portion of the country as a military base. This was supposed to be a lease agreement at a cost of 2,000 pesos per year. The lease payments were paid by the U.S. until 1959 and nothing has been paid since. At one time about 1,000 Cuban people worked on the 50 square mile base along with about 2,000 U.S. servicemen, but today no Cubans are employed. The Platt Amendment was abolished in 1934 but the U.S. still occupies the land even without consent of the local government.

Camaguey is the nation’s third largest Cuban city with a population of about 325,000 inhabitants. This city was moved inland from the coast around 1528 to avoid continuous attacks by pirates. Due to their pirate experiences, the new city was built with a confusing maze-like lay-out of winding alleys and streets. The symbol of the city is the clay pot or “Tinajon,” used to store rain water for future use. Clay pots are found everywhere throughout the city. The city was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2008, so they have been busy restoring many of the historic buildings.

Our hotel for two nights was the Gran Hotel, located on one of two pedestrians only shopping streets in the historic center of town. The hotel is quite an old building which has been restored and has five stories. The ground floor has an old world style lobby with dark woods, a bar, outdoor courtyard with a central fountain and a small swimming pool. Our room was smaller in size, but had about 12-foot-high ceilings with crown molding, tiled floors, vintage styled furnishings and a small bath.

For dinner we met in the lobby and walked about ten minutes to a local Paladar called the Meson Del Principe de Paladar. We had a welcome drink of rum and coke, two drinks of our choice, either chicken noodle soup or a mixed salad, an entrée, dessert and coffee. The choice of entrée’s included a lamb stew as they call it, but here it is actually a goat stew. The goat was very tasty and the meal was very good. They had a couple of musicians that played the guitar and violin as well as one that sang.
Back at the hotel we went out to the pool at 9:30pm where they had a water ballet show. Three girls and three boys did some dancing on the pool deck and then did some synchronized swimming in the pool.

March 28, 2017 Santiago de Cuba/Granma Island

Our Lady of Charity

Our Lady of Charity Church

Our Lady of Charity Church

Granma Island

Santiago Main Square

We took an excursion to an old copper mining town called El Cobre that was once worked by slaves and free colored people starting in 1532. In 1670 the Spanish Crown had confiscated the mine and 270 private slaves became property of the king. That was not the purpose of our trip, but a little about the history of the town.

Cubans of all walks of life make pilgrimage to the La Caridad del Cobre Church in El Cobre to pray at the tiny statue of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity. The story is told that along the northern shore of Cuba near Holguin in the late 1600’s,  two fishermen, and a young boy who was a freed slave, found a statue floating on a piece of wood in the ocean. On the piece of wood was written that the statue was of Our Lady of Charity. The Cuban statue measures just 16 inches tall, with a head of baked clay covered with a polished coat of fine white powder. Her feet rest upon a brilliant moon, while angels spread their golden wings on a silver cloud. This church was erected in her honor and today it is a beautiful church in excellent condition.

After our visit to the church we stopped in Santiago at the Revolution Square where we saw a large statue of General Maceo riding a horse and huge beams of steels resembling machetes pointing into the air. The statue and daggers are atop a museum which is covered in steps made of local green marble. General Maceo is highly revered in Cuba for his fight for independence.  He was wounded in battle some 32 times.

Next we made our way back to the bay of Santiago near where we had visited the castle yesterday. We boarded a small motor boat to take us a short five-minute ride to Granma Island (Cayo Granma) in the middle of the bay. Once on the island we visited a restaurant where we heard from a local fisherman and two students, an 10-year-old boy and a 11-year-old girl. The kids are part of a group of more than 100 kids on the island that participate in a local program where they get tutoring from older residents. The tutoring focuses on cleaning up the island, keeping young women from getting pregnant, doing well in school and recycling old trash. We were each given a piece of art the kids had created out of recycled items like vitamin bottles, medication bottles, deodorant containers, wire, string and plastics. The art pieces were hanging ornaments of funny characters decorated in a vast number of ways from recycled materials. They give these to the visitors and ask the visitors to take photos of the characters all around the world when they arrive home and send them photos. They showed us many photos of their handicrafts from all around the world.

The address to send photos to the kids showing off their toys made from recycled materials is: Pedro E. Torres Sorio, La Sorapo, Calle Principal #8, Santiago de Cuba.

We then had lunch at the restaurant on a wonderful covered patio with a great cool breeze overlooking the bay. It was a wonderful setting for a lunch and the weather was sunny and beautiful. We were served battered and fried fish bites as an appetizer, a salad of cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers, a white fish with shrimp, tomato sauce and cheese on top and ice cream for dessert.

After lunch we took the boat back to the mainland and made our way to the main square of Santiago de Cuba. The buildings around the square include the city hall, a church, residential housing buildings and ground floor shops. All of the buildings around the square have been beautifully restored, freshly painted and show you what can be done with the old and decaying buildings around the city.

We had some free time to explore the church and neighboring shopping streets on our own. The interior of the church has also been meticulously restored and has been painted with bright colors. The traffic is busy in the center of town and the exhaust from the trucks, cars and motorcycles is a bit overwhelming. There is a pedestrian only shopping street nearby which was filled with all sorts of locals and tourists wandering. Many of the local shops and businesses had lines of people waiting outside to get in. Not sure if they only allow a certain number of customers in at a time or if they had just not re-opened after lunch.

Our final stop of the day was at an old Bacardi Rum factory store that sold many types of rum and many varieties of cigars. The shop was smaller in size but they had some local musicians playing and there were tables and chairs where you could sit down. Lots of the people in our group took this opportunity to buy cigars as gifts for friend’s back home. The cigars are fairly expensive at about $6 a piece and up depending on the brand, size and volume that you purchase.

For dinner we were on our own, although many of us chose to visit our local tour guide Jesus’ family restaurant which was only about three blocks away form our hotel. His family runs a local paladar and we thought this would be a safer option than heading out on our own to find something for dinner. They were serving a pumpkin and taro soup, chicken dishes, pork dishes, and a variety of seafood like fish, shrimp and lobster. Everything was very good but something did not agree with Kent’s stomach.

March 27, 2017 Guardalavaca/Santiago de Cuba

San Juan Hill

Santiago Castillo de San Pedro De La Roca Castle

Santiago – Melia Hotel

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca Castle Quartet

Santiago Architecture

We left Guardalavaca at 8:30am bound for the town of Santiago De Cuba located on the south-eastern shore of Cuba. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba with more than 600,000 people in the city, and more than one million in the metropolitan area. The four-hour drive took us through many small communities where people wait on the edge of the streets for public or private forms of transportation to get them where they need to go. Not many cars on the streets as they are too expensive but you find more motor bikes, horse drawn carriages and bicycles. Farming of all types is found along the way, particularly large fields of sugar cane.

Along the way we stopped at a private family farm where we could use the bathrooms, enjoy coffee, fruits and snacks. The family owns two family farms where they grow citrus, avocados, yucca roots, mango, papaya, bananas, raise goats, have a pig, chickens, ducks, etc. Each of the farms is about 35 acres in size and three generations of the family live on the property.

We also passed the small village of Biran, known as the birthplace of Ramon Castro in 1924, Fidel Castro in 1926 and Raul Castro in 1931. Their father owned a 23,000-acre sugarcane plantation here. Due to the fact that many people passed along this road to get to Santiago de Cuba, the Castro’s built a hotel, pub, post office, shop and an arena for cock fighting. The original home was destroyed by fire in 1954 but there was a replica constructed in 1974. For some reason we did not make a stop at this location.

We arrived in Santiago de Cuba at the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca about 12:15pm. Built in 1637 the local citadel of San Pedro de la Roca is a UNESCO World Heritage site for being the best preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture. Here we took in the beautiful views over the valley of Santiago and had a short visit to explore the castle. In a small chapel of the castle we were entertained by a women’s quartet which performed a selection of five songs from Cuba and the U.S. They were delightful and appeared to really be enjoying themselves as they performed.

After exploring the castle, we had a pleasant lunch at the El Morro Restaurant next door on a vast terrace overlooking the ocean. Lunch included a beef and vegetable soup with bread, fried fish, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, white rice, a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, and ice cream for dessert.

In the afternoon we drove a short distance to San Juan Hill where in 1898 about 2,000 Americans along with the Cuban’s fought a six-hour battle against the Spanish. More than 1,100 of our soldiers were killed in the battle. Today the site is like a park with monuments to the men who fought in the battle.

From here we drove a short distance to the Santa Ifigenia Cemetary where Fidel Castro is buried next to the grave of Jose Marti who was an early leader of the country and led the revolution against Spain for independence. We watched the changing of the guard at Marti’s grave where his ashes are entombed in a huge monument. Fidel’s gravesite is a simple rock maybe ten feet tall and twenty feet wide with just the name Fidel on the face of the stone. No date of birth or death, just a simple stone. They charge six dollars to take photos at the cemetery, so I chose not to take any photos.

The cemetery is a beautifully maintained cemetery with marble walkways and the graves of many national heroes and important families. Many of the Bacardi family members from Barcardi Rum fame are buried here.

Our hotel for the next two nights is the Melia Santiago de Cuba Hotel in the heart of Santiago de Cuba. The hotel is a fifteen story high-rise with a colorful red and blue exterior. Our room was simple with tiled floors, dark cherry colored furniture and a dated bathroom including a bidet. Simple but nothing extraordinary.

We had drinks with new friends in the hotel’s bar on the 15th floor with panoramic views over the entire city. Dinner was included at the hotel’s buffet where you could have everything from pizza and pasta to salads, cheeses, chicken, beef, pork and liver all cooked to order. The food was nothing special but more than plenty to eat.

March 26, 2017 Guardalavaca/Gibara

Giber Beach From the Fort

Gibara Cuban Dancers

Gibara Trio

Artesans Display

Gibara Restored Hotel

The town of Guardalavaca is located on the northeastern shore of Cuba and has a secluded shallow bay connected to the open sea by a narrow inlet. The name Guardalavaca in Spanish means “guard the cow,” although it is uncertain where the name originated. Some believe that the word was mistaken with Guardalabarca meaning “guard the ship” due to the large number of pirates in the area at one time. Others believe that the name is correct in that when a pirate ship was spotted the locals would call out “Guardalavaca” to alert others to watch their cows so the pirates would not take them.

Gibara located on the northern coast of Cuba and west of Guardalavaca was founded in 1817 and has a population of about 75,000 inhabitants. Christopher Columbus’ first ship reached this area and said “it was the most beautiful land that human eyes saw. ”The town is referred to as the Villa Blanca or white village due to the number of white historic buildings in town. The main square called the Calixto Garcia was once famous for its splendid replica of the Statue of Liberty, erected in 1915, although we did not see it today. The square is undergoing much renovation work and it may have been removed for construction. It is said that a young Gibara woman was the model for the statue’s face.

Our first stop in Gibara was at an old fort where we were treated to a Cuban folkloric show. The show had about a dozen or so men and women in a variety of costumes performing for about thirty minutes. During the show they served us one of the national favorite drinks, the rum and coke. The show was very nice and the dancers were well rehearsed.

Next, we visited with a retired fisherman to learn about the types of fishing boats, fishing gear and the life of the local fishermen. The government grants licenses to the fisherman in exchange for a percentage of their catch which is used to feed people in local hospitals and the needy. The remainder of the fish is sold to local restaurants and hotels for a profit. Most of the fishing boats are very small and are manned by two men who row them up to five miles a day to fish in the local waters. Some of the local fish include swordfish, sea bass, red snapper, halibut, mahi-mahi, dover sole, cod, bonito, barracuda, shrimp and lobster.

After meeting with the fisherman we walked into town where we visited the Casa de la Cultural or cultural center. Here people of all ages are encouraged to participate in all sorts of arts including playing an instrument to fine arts like painting. They had a small exhibit of paintings by local students on display and we also heard the music of a trio of women who have been performing and singing for more than 40 years. Two of the women played guitars, one played the sticks and mariachi’s while they all sang.

Across the street from the cultural center was an artisans’ collective where artists displayed and sold their local arts and handicrafts. They had everything from wood carvings, to dresses, jewelry and paintings to car license plates.

For lunch we drove a short distance from the town center to the La Cueva del Indio Paladar where we saw a demonstration on the making of the local drink, the mojito. The mojito is made from sugar, rum, lime juice, mint leaves and sparkling water. For lunch we were served family style at one large table a huge amount of food. Bread with a mayonnaise and garlic spread, fried plantains, banana chips, rice with black beans, a shrimp dish, seafood paella (rice with lobster, shrimp, fish), salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots, stuffed crab in the shell, tuna steaks and French fries, another crab dish and flan for dessert. Too much food, but we had to try it all.

After lunch we made the hour or so drive back to the resort where people could have a nap, enjoy the pool or other activities. The countryside along the way is scattered with small villages of homes and lots of open space. Animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys and dogs roam the fields. Roadside fruits and vegetable stands can be found along the way, as well as many small stands selling beef laid out on a table under an umbrella.

By late afternoon the rain had started to come down fairly hard making it difficult to navigate the huge complex without the use of the covered golf carts. The rain lasted several hours before clearing. In the evening there was an interactive Salsa dance lesson at the resort’s disco, which we chose to skip. Dinner was at one of the resort’s specialty restaurants called the Romantico. The food included a wide variety of items you could order from a menu but nothing outstanding.

March 25, 2017 Miami/Holguin/Guardalavaca, Cuba

Playa Pesquero Resort Pool

Playa Pesquero Resort Beach

Print Shop Typesetter

We had to have our luggage ready for pick up at 6:30am and our departure from the hotel to the airport was at 7:30am. Our short flight from Miami to the Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin, Cuba, was scheduled at 10:25am, arriving about 12:05pm. The flight ended up leaving late at about 10:55am and arrived about 11:50am, before our scheduled arrival. The town of Holguin was founded in 1545 after its founder Captain Garcia Holguin, a Spanish military officer, and has about 370,000 inhabitants. The town of Holguin is made up of mostly single or two story homes built of concrete blocks and plastered with stucco. Many of the homes sit just a sidewalk away from the street and have no front yards to speak of. We saw all types of transportation being used, from old American cars to horse drawn buggies and bicycle taxis with a side car, to flat bed trucks with a box on the back where people stand up to be transported about town.

From the airport we were taken in a new looking large modern coach to the Royal Paladar (small restaurant) in the downtown part of Holguin for lunch. The word paladar refers to a privately owned restaurant often in a private home. It was very nicely appointed and seated about 30 guests. For lunch they served us a nice bowl of vegetable soup, a green salad, a plate of chopped beef in a rich sauce, a plate to share of rice and black beans, a plate to share of dried banana chips and dessert of a flan and ice cream. It was a very nice lunch and there was more food than we really needed.

The local area landscape is a mixture of rolling hills with lush vegetation to areas that look quite barren and dry. The vegetation includes many mango trees, palm trees, bougainvillea, pine trees, variegated croton plants, grasses and more.

After lunch, we walked a short two blocks to a printing shop called the Casa Editora Cuadernos Papiro for a demonstration on how they make paper from recycled paper and print books and art. The printing presses that they use were mostly built in the U.S. in the 1800’s but they still work today.  When they stop working they make parts for them to keep them working.

Our next visit was at the Yuri Urquiza Shapovalov Artist Studio. Yuris is 30 years old from Belarus. He came to Cuba to study painting at a local university where he met his wife, who is the daughter of the most famous artist of Cuba and now resides in the U.S. Yuri’s art is mostly of nudes in a very traditional/classical style with flowing fabrics, cherubs and scenes with lots of trees and flowers. The art was not particularly appealing to us but was it was evident that he is quite an accomplished painter.

By late afternoon we arrived at the Playa Pesquero Resort in Guardalavaca where we will stay for two nights. The resort is an enormous all-inclusive resort with multiple restaurants, several bars, multiple swimming pools, a sports club and fitness center, night club, ice cream bar, theater and so much more. The rooms are located in two story buildings with clusters of rooms on both levels and sprinkled throughout the property. The grounds are lushly landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowering plants. It reminded me of something that you might find in Mexico with brightly painted rooms with tiled floors, wooden furniture and murals on the wall.  Tonight we ate too much at one of the many buffets, then headed to the ice cream bar about 8:30pm before bed!

March 24, 2017 Miami, Florida

About 1:15pm we were picked up at Jim and Phil’s by a car service that took us to the Marriott Hotel at the Miami Airport.   It was $72, but more convenient than renting a car for $47, having Jim and Phil take us to get the car, filling it with gas and checking it in.  With traffic, it took us about an hour to get from Ft. Lauderdale to the Miami Airport Marriott.

This is where we met our Globus Tour group at 6:00pm for an orientation and welcome cocktails. Our Globus tour leader is a gentleman by the name of Daniel Ferro from Boca Raton, Florida. There are 25 people in our group traveling to Cuba. The majority of the group are older and retired with the exception of one couple that are traveling with their adult daughter from Indiana. The orientation lasted about 90 minutes, including filling out the required visa and immigration forms required to enter and exit Cuba legally. They say that by law we are required to keep our authorization letter for five years in the event that the US government questions our visit to Cuba. Unauthorized visits can lead to a $10,000 fine.

March 21 – 23, 2017 Miami, Florida

Jim and Judy Meeks

Bonnet House Courtyard

Jim and Phil

On March 21, 2017 we departed early morning about 7:00am from San Diego bound for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We had a short stop in Dallas to change planes before arriving in Ft. Lauderdale about 4:30pm. Our friends Jim Gill and Phil Farnsworth picked us up at the airport and took us to their lovely new townhouse nearby.

On the 22nd we met up with Kent’s childhood friend Jim Meeks and his wife Judy at the Cheesecake Factory in Boca Raton. After lunch we came back to Ft. Lauderdale where we visited the Bonnet House, Museum and Gardens.

The Bonnet House was designed by Frederic Clay Bartlett, an American artist from Chicago. The house is built on 35 acres of ocean front property given to Frederic and his wife Helen as a wedding gift from her father, Hugh Taylor Birch in 1920. Construction of the estate continued for more than 20 years, due to the death of Helen, and Frederic’s second marriage to Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Evelyn came form a wealthy family and was previously married to Eli Lilly and had received a generous divorce settlement in the millions.

The house is built around a central courtyard garden comprised of large covered veranda’s, a fountain and lush landscaping. Each room surrounding the courtyard is casual and comfortable as this was a beach house and not their main residence. Art from both Frederic and Evelyn, as well as others, is found throughout the home. They painted on canvas as well as on the walls, ceilings and floors when the mood suited them.

The home sits near a man-made lily pond filled with Bonnet Lilies, which is where the name of the house comes from. The main house consists of a drawing room or living room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, music room and gallery. The upstairs is not on the tour, but houses the bedrooms and bathrooms for the owners, guests and staff of 15. In addition to these main structures, there are several out buildings used for Evelyn’s shell collection, an orchid greenhouse, the caretakers’ quarters, an island theater where home movies were shown and a pavilion on a lily pond used for relaxing and visiting with friends.

The gardens around the property are lushly landscaped in a variety of styles from local vegetation to a desert garden of cactus and succulents. Small monkeys, majestic swans, wading birds, iguanas and an occasional manatee can be found enjoying the grounds.

Evelyn lived here until she died just shy of her 110th birthday and had donated the property to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation so that it would be preserved just as she left it for future generations to enjoy.

On Wednesday evening, Phil and Jim hosted a dinner party for a 90-year-old friend and his two friends from England. Jim was responsible for preparing the dinner while Phil set the table and served drinks. It was a fun evening and we enjoyed meeting these new folks.

October 31, 2016 – Lucerne, Switzerland (Palace Hotel Luzem)

Lucerne - Mt. Pilatus

Lucerne – Mt. Pilatus

Lucerne - Kent and the Ricola Man

Lucerne – Kent and the Ricola Man

Lucerne - Burger King Sign

Lucerne – Burger King Sign

We stayed at a beautiful five-star hotel situated right on the bank of Lake Lucerne a few blocks from the center of town. The Palace Hotel had lovely rooms overlooking the lake with the mountains in the background. A tree-lined promenade circles the lake in front of the hotel and during warmer weather you can sit outside in lakeside cafes. The weather was only about 50 degrees so a jacket was required at all times when outdoors. The hotel lobby is very elegant with afternoon tea served accompanied by a pianist on the grand piano in the center of the room. The hotel is traditional in style with high ceilings, crown molding, parquet floors and elegant traditional furnishings.

We headed out with three lady friends, Rita, Leslie and Kathy, for a day trip up the mountain of Mt. Pilatus. We had to take a local train from the main train station in Lucerne to the small town of Alpnachstad (about a 20-minute ride). From there we boarded a cogwheel railway that opened is 1889 to take people to the top of the mountain. This is the steepest railway system in the world with a 48% grade. The ride up the mountain takes about 30 minutes through beautiful forest lands and then at the higher altitude you have mostly interesting rock formations with small grasses and flowering plants. The mountain is about 7,000 feet in elevation. Half way up the mountain we rode through the clouds covering the lake and valley below, but arrived in bright sunny skies and much warmer weather. It was quite amazing how the view changed and you could see the tops of many high mountains all around you.

At the top of the railway there is a small hotel where people stay, a restaurant and many walking and hiking trails to enjoy. Some locals prefer to hike to the summit which takes about five hours to reach the top. The locals also enjoy making the journey to the top of the mountains to get some local sunshine when the lake is covered with clouds. We explored a couple of the trails and lookout points for a couple of hours before making our way back down the mountain on the railway.

After returning to Lucerne by train Rita, Leslie, Kent and I stopped at a Burger King in the train station for a quick bite to eat as everyone was hungry. The prices in the Burger King were like everything else in town….high!  A burger with fries and a soft drink runs you about $15 to $17 with an additional 30 cents for each packet of ketchup or mayonnaise for your fries.

After lunch we said good bye to the girls and headed out to a the Gletscher Garten Luzern or the glacier gardens. These unique glaciers were discovered here in 1872 and have been a tourist attraction ever since. It is believed that Lucerne was covered with glaciers some 20,000 years ago and that these potholes, fossils and stones date back to this time…even before Kent’s time!

The three story residence of the owners of the land at the time these glacier remains were found, is now a museum about the history of the glaciers in Lucerne. Also a part of the museum is a mirror maze dating back to the year 1896.  We found it quite challenging to get out of the place….the mirrors confused us!

October 30, 2016 — Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne - Palace Hotel

Lucerne – Palace Hotel

Lucerne - Lion

Lucerne – Lion

Lucerne - Decorative Buildings

Lucerne – Decorative Buildings

Lucerne - Waterfront Cafes and Shops

Lucerne – Waterfront Cafes and Shops

We disembarked the ship at 9:00am and boarded a bus for the hour dive to Lucerne, Switzerland. Due to a large marathon in the city with 11,000 runners we were not able to reach our hotel. Instead we arrived at another hotel in the city where we started our walking tour of the city. Our tour took us through the old town where we enjoyed the views around Lake Lucerne and crossed the Spreuer Bridge. This bridge is the oldest covered timber bridge in Switzerland completed in 1408 as part of the city’s fortifications. It features 67 paintings depicting a macabre dance to indicate that even rich, wealthy people die. Nearby the bridge, is a dam known as the needle dam because of its needle like wooden paddles or needles installed in 1859. The water level of Lake Lucerne is still regulated manually by the removal or insertion of these timber needles.

Lucerne is located in central Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne and has a population of about 80,000 inhabitants. The lake covers about 45 square miles of land and has an irregular shoreline with several outreaching arms. The surrounding countryside is extraordinarily beautiful with some of the shoreline mountains jutting skyward some 4,000 feet above the lake. It remained cloudy during our stay.

We visited the cities most famous landmark, the Kapellbrucke or covered Chapel Bridge that spans the Reuss River and was originally built in 1333 to connect the old town on one side of the river and the new town on the other. This foot bridge is 560 feet in length and is the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. Unfortunately, in 1993 a fire destroyed a large portion of the bridge and it was reconstructed at a cost of more than two million dollars.

Also of significance is the Lion Monument or the Lion of Lucerne. This exquisite stone sculpture of a lion was designed by Danish Sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn by Lukas Ahorn in 1820 to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The sculpture is carved into a steep rock façade and measures some 32 feet in length and about 20 feet tall.

We had lunch at a small café bakery where we got a couple of pieces of pizza and a coffee and a hot chocolate for about $20. Prices for most everything are higher than we are used to as this is one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

After lunch we explored more of the city including the Museggmauer wall. This fortification wall built in 1535 includes nine towers, one of which houses the city’s oldest clock. We were able to climb up the interior of the clock tower and see the inner workings of the clocks gears and weights. This clock chimes one minute before every hour (and all other clocks) as a privilege for being the oldest clock in town.

Being a Sunday most of the shops and restaurants were closed but we still enjoyed wandering the winding streets of town.

In the evening our friend Matthias and Alain from Stuttgart in Germany drove five hours in traffic to have dinner with us. They made a reservation at a charming restaurant located in a half-timbered house right in the middle of Lucerne. The food and service were excellent, although like everything in Switzerland the prices are over the top. They said that this was one of the more moderately priced restaurants in town but the soups were about $17 each and many of the entrees ran upwards of $30.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel where across the street there is another hotel located high up on the hill with great views out over the lake. You need to take a funicular to reach the hotel. Once inside the hotel we had drinks in the Louis Armstrong bar where on Sunday nights a DJ plays oldies. The bar was intimate, traditional in style with ornate upholstered furniture, photos of performers and just a very comfortable old-world style.

October 29, 2016 — Basel, Switzerland

Basel - Town Hall

Basel – Town Hall

Basel - Church

Basel – Church

Basel - Stuffed Trolls at the Fall Festival

Basel – Stuffed Trolls at the Fall Festival

Basel - Fall Festival

Basel – Fall Festival

Basel- Fountain

Basel- Fountain

Basel is located on the Rhine River along the northwestern border of Switzerland at the intersection of France and Germany. Basel has about 175,000 inhabitants and about 850,000 people in the area including portions of France and Germany. The official language is German although most people speak a local dialect.

Basel is one of the most dynamic economic regions in Switzerland and has an unemployment rate of less than 5%. Pharmaceutical companies, many banks and Swiss Air call Basel their home.

We took a bus for about a thirty-minute drive to reach the center of Basel from the the ship. From here we took a walking tour of the city where it was the opening day of the autumn festival at noon. The festival was set up in many city squares and parks. It was a bit like a county fair with lots of carnival games, ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, food booths, demonstrations of mops and vegetable slicing machines, and gift items of all types. We wandered some of the squares and sampled a popular pastry filled with an egg custard mixed with cheese and some candy coated nuts.

One of the local parks we stopped at had something like a Halloween festival going on. There was a skeleton hanging with an exercise bicycle attached to it. When you peddled the stationary bicycle the arms and legs of the skeleton would move. One booth featured a variety of ugly looking hand made stuffed trolls. Another booth was selling all types of jewelry made of bones, while another featured a live grim reaper dressed in black polishing his sickle.

For lunch we stopped at a local burger joint where it was confirmed that the prices in Switzerland really are over the top. We ordered one bacon cheeseburger, one order of French fries and two sodas. The price for this was $29.50.

About 2:30pm we headed back to the ship on a shuttle provided to begin our packing to disembark the ship the next day for our trip to Lucerne, Switzerland.  There was no entertainment and we went to bed early….very exciting.